The Atlanta Falcons’ hog stomping up at FedEx Sunday provoked plenty of strong reactions from your dear columnist.
Lots of garbled cheers, looks of sincere befuddlement and sighs of relief punctuated the afternoon. The 3-4 Falcons beat a really sound 5-2 Washington team, a team built to punk out exactly what that 3-4 Falcons team was bad at. They didn’t just beat them. They roasted them over an open fire and served them up to the entire Falcony crowd up in D.C.
It felt good to win like that again.
Washington’s top-5 defense looked lost when it came to defending a fiery Falcons offensive attack, and the piecemeal Atlanta defense got stops against a unit that, while a bit clipped, could still do plenty to give the Falcons problems. Julio Jones even got a touchdown!
After a three-game losing skid marred by putrid defending and horrifying roster loss, the Falcons have seem to have stabilized at 4-4 and head into Cleveland next Sunday to take on a formidable-yet-quite-beatable Dawg Pound. If they win that and the home stand against Dallas, the team will be 6-4 going into New Orleans for Turkey Day, firmly in the playoff race. Plus, Deion Jones might come back off IR at that point and rejoin the fun.
Once Jones is back, the defense will take a major uptick. Teams won’t be nearly as adept at running and throwing in the middle, with a Pro Bowl-caliber MLB back to run the show.
A New Day, An Old Reminder
It feels like this is a different team coming out of the bye week, and the Falcons can boast close losses to good-to-really good teams (New Orleans, Cincinnati Pittsburgh, Philly) and blame the two close home drops to injuries. They’ll be healthier down the stretch, the reserves who have assumed starting roles will be more comfortable and the offense could, hypothetically, get even better.
This all feels like a muted version of 2016, where a good-if-flawed team with a great offense hit a December high and rode it to a NFC Championship win and near-Super Bowl victory. Just a few weeks ago, folks were wondering if Atlanta might be picking in the top five of the draft. Now, playoffs have begun running dailies in the grand screening room of Falcondom.
What exactly do you do here?
The best plan of action is to heighten your hopes, but keep your pessimism close by.
Definitely Not Out, Not Quite Convinced
The 2018 Falcons might have much, much better football ahead of them, and that defense might not be half bad by the time colder weather rolls around. But Sunday’s just a game, and this team still some problems to tend to, particularly once the explosive offenses return (sorry, Washington).
What happens when they get into another tight contest? To me, you look at another close game against a good team that the Falcons should win and see if they do. If they don’t, we’re right back where we started. If they do, there might be turnaround yet.
As things stand, that trip to New Orleans and the one to Green Bay will be mighty difficult to pull off. Throw in a hard-hat slugfest with Baltimore at home, a trip to a likely-hungry-for-revenge Carolina and a finale at Tampa Bay (who will be playing for pride at that point), and the schedule’s fairly treacherous. Really, the only game you feel without-a-doubt confident in is that home game against Arizona.
Can the pass rush get better? Will this offensive line continue Sunday’s promising performance? How long would it take Debo to get back to his old self? Can the offense keep putting up points against great defenses like this? Will the close road trips begin to take their toll? What is this team’s true ceiling? What of the other NFC teams trying to fight for a spot? Could a resurgence by the Falcons be overshadowed by other, better records?
The bottom line is, the road is tough ahead, and we still have no idea what this team’s future will be. The team showed a lot of promise Sunday, though that promise might not crater in as far as some might hope. Like it did almost in 2017, dropping those winnable September games might prove costly.
It’s been a rough season, but signs of life exist yet. What matters in the end is just how far those signs will get you, and if the roadblocks we’ve all fretted about prove to limit the trip’s ultimate destination.
But hey, at least it’s a journey again, and not foregone conclusion, as to where this season ends up.